ETC spins modern musical fairy tale
What happens when you combine "Rumplestiltskin" with "The Emperor's New Clothes," then blend in colorful characters from other fairy tales, like the three spinners, a dopey prince, two vain stepsisters, three bakers, three crazy god-aunts and a dozen nutty tailors?
You get an original new musical production by Emerson Theatre Collaborative, "The Best of What's His Name," that teaches some conventional life lessons about power and greed in today's world in a very unconventional way.
The show was written and its music was composed by Bob Gautreau, who performs and teaches stand-up, sketch, improv and musical comedy around the world. It is directed by Theresa Broach, who has produced, directed and/or stage managed more than 30 theatrical productions for children and adult audiences, including several ETC productions. Kala Farnham, a classically trained pianist and vocalist, is the musical director, and Camilla Ross, president and co-founder of ETC, is the producer.
Adults and kids comprise the cast and the show is written to appeal to audiences of all ages.
"I try to do that in all my work," Gautreau says. "I want it to be provocative enough for adults to realize there's a deeper message and children will enjoy all the comedy and songs and characters."
In describing the plot, Broach says, "I love the way author Bob Gautreau has combined two classic fairy tales into one through his creation of an emperor who is such a ridiculous clothes horse that he needs more money to buy ever more rare and exotic costumes, so he coerces a young woman (Sue) into spinning straw into gold with a little help from her friends.
"The emperor is hilariously played by the talented writer and actor Josh Rivedal," she adds.
There are several themes and issues being addressed in the play.
"If you put unreasonable demands upon yourself or others (like Rumplestiltskin does) then you will come to a horrible end," Gautreau says. "But if you can't do something yourself, find someone who can help you, plain and simple. Don't feel you're alone in the world, when the world is so big and beautiful."
The play also provides a lesson in perseverance.
"A lot of people persevere no matter what their problem is," Gautreau says, whether it's a physical deformity or an emotional issue.
The play also explores how pretending to be something you are not can have serious consequences, and what happens when one loves material things more than other people.
Broach says the play successfully uses comedy to deliver serious messages.
"It uses absurdity to reveal the negative themes of greed, vanity, conceit, laziness, betrayal, selfishness and desertion," she says. "… The comedic delivery of the sometimes outlandish dialogue and lively songs provides timeless lessons on the consequences of self-absorption and sage advice."
In keeping with ETC's mission, there is a lot of ethnic and racial diversity in the show and strong women characters that Gautreau points out are missing from the original fairy tales upon which the play is based.
In writing the music, Gautreau says, he leaned toward swing and jazz with some hip-hop thrown in. The 12 tailors are examples of diversity as well as styles of music. For example, the Germans are represented by punk rock; the rednecks, country beat; the urban dwellers, 1920s swing; the Italians, a tarantella.
Gautreau says he absolutely agrees with ETC's mission of promoting diversity in its productions.
"I think Camilla is doing an outstanding job of this. Not laying it out to you heavy handed, but making it clear there should be more equality of sex and race," he says. "It's all done in a really fun, appealing way. In our play, we don't hammer you over the head, we sing it to you and it really does celebrate diversity."
"As with all ETC offerings, 'The Best of What's His Name' provides a different perspective and questions the traditional view," Broach says. "The production staff, crew and cast of this and every production consists of a diverse community of racial color, young and old, sexual preferences, cultures, religions and shoe sizes. Their world view, experiences and ideas deliver the creative energy that makes ETC innovative, unforgettable, live theater."
Broach says there are challenges and rewards to directing children in a production.
"For six years, I served as the drama coach for third, fourth and fifth graders at the North Stonington Elementary School and found that the greatest challenge is in getting their attention," she says. "The best way is to engage them is doing something that's interesting and fun. Children love music, singing and dancing, so with this show it's been really easy. The reward for any coach's effort is always hearing their happy giggles of achievement, especially when they are hesitant at first."
Gautreau says he loves working with ETC.
"It's such a respectful theater company - a very gentle, supportive, fun environment. The kids keep journals of their own journeys through this, and all of the arts are encouraged in the program: writing, drawing, acting and singing. It's a great environment."
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Emerson Theater Collaborative's production of "The Best of What's His Name"
WHEN: 7 p.m. on July 25 and 26, and 4 p.m. on July 27
WHERE: First United Methodist Church, 23 Willow St., Mystic
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $30 general admission, $25 seniors and students and are available online at www.emersontheatercollaborative.org or by calling (860) 705-9711. Tickets at a 10 percent discount may be purchased at the Mystic Information Center.
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